Health and well being in under Fives

The first 2 years of a child’s life where babies learn through their senses; sight, taste, smell, sound, touch and physical action. During the first year of life a baby uses its fives senses to makes sense of the world, at first these are linked to survival. Everything that a baby hears, smells, sees, tastes and feels will affect the way that their brain makes con-nections. Babies are born with most of these senses almost fully developed. The baby’s nervous system will receive input from these senses and will then form an appropriate motor or behavioural response. This process is known as sensory integration or sensory processing.


A new-born baby’s sense of hearing is still immature due to their middle ear being full of fluid. This is why a new-born baby will respond best to high-pitched, exag-gerated sounds and voices. New-borns are unable to hear certain very quiet sounds. At one month a baby will startle to sudden noises and will begin to show that they can hear a sound by turning their head toward the direction of the sound usually parents voices. At 3 months will ‘coo’ to familiar adults and at 6 months can recognises familiar voices. A 9 month old will listen for familiar sounds. A 12 month old will enjoy music and songs.


A new-born’s sense of smell is well-developed and they can tell the difference be-tween the smell of their own mother’s milk and that of another mother.


A new-born baby can differentiate between sweet, salty, sour and bitter tastes. They do however, show a preference for sweet, such as breast milk, and then for salty tastes later on. At 12 months may have food preferences.


New-born babies can distinguish between hot and cold temperatures and can feel pain. Their hands and mouths are particularly sensitive to touch. They have reflex sucking movements at birth, by one month will stop crying when being held. Puts everything in mouth to explore at 6 – 9 months which may continue t 12 months. During weaning the baby may not like certain textures of foods.


New borns are sensitive to light, by 1 month will turn their head towards a light and prefers to look at faces especially close to them. They can focus on objects about 8 inches away. It is thought new borns have limited colour vision. At 3 months will follow object if it is quite close and watch own hand movements, and between 4 and 7 months of age, full colour perception is achieved. They develop depth per-ception between 3 and 7 months. And it is during the second year of life that they possess the same visual acuity as an adult.

Current scientific research relating to neurological and brain development in the early years.

Early Development

Currently the brain is thought not to be completed until the mid-twenties. It is esti-mated that babies are born with 100 billion neurons; brain cells that are shapes to allow them to form connections and which pass electrical pulses between one an-other and so allow the brain to respond and function. These connections are re-ferred to as neural pathways. Some of these neural pathways have already been developed in pregnancy, which allow the baby to survive. Throughout early years the neural pathways increase. Scientific research suggests that the neural path-ways are formed and developed in response to the experiences of attachment, stimulation and love. Research has shown that the brain of a three year old is two and a half times more active than an adult’s. During the first three years of life, a child builds an estimated 1000 trillion synapses (junction between two nerve cells in the brain) through the experiences that they encounter.

Neural Pruning

Over the first few years of life, the brain grows rapidly. As each neuron matures, it sends out multiple branches (axons, which send information out, and dendrites, which take in information), increasing the number of synaptic contacts and laying the specific connections from neuron to neuron. At birth, each neuron has approx-imately 2,500 synapses. By the time the child is two or three years old, the number of synapses is approximately 15,000 synapses per neuron. From about 18 months of age the neural pathways that are no longer used are “pruned” out in much the same way a gardener would prune a tree or bush, this enables children to re-spond faster. It is thought that children can easily learn a new language quickly because of the neural pruning.


Myelin is a coating that is made up of protein and fats that covers the neural path-ways to help electrical impulses move quickly and enables nerve cells to transmit information faster allowing for more complex brain processes. The process is therefore vitally important to the healthy functioning of the central nervous system. Myelinisation begins in infancy and continues into adulthood. Later in adulthood, there are brain diseases that are caused by the deterioration of the myelin coating, such as Multiple Sclerosis.

Brain Growth

The first three years of life are a period of incredible growth in all areas of a baby’s development. The brain consists of many different parts, which also continue to develop throughout early childhood. Scientists have found that the more mental stimulation a child gets around the age of four, the more developed the parts of their brains dedicated to language and cognition will be in the decades ahead. It is known that childhood experience influences brain development but the only evi-dence scientists have found for this has usually come from extreme cases such as children who had been abused or suffered trauma.

How current scientific research relating to neurological and brain development in early years influences practice in early years settings.

Children’s brains are shaped by their experiences and the more good experiences a child has the better. Experiences and stimulations are what encourages the formation of neural pathways and synapses. Young children’s’ brains are much more active than adults’ brains. Brain development occurs as a result of a complex interweaving of genetic potential and experiences. Early experiences have an effect on the ‘design’ of the brain, and can influence the extent of adult capabilities. This research dictates the early years practitioners role to play, with the importance of attachments. Scientific research has found that strong relationships and early attachment are important elements in the healthy development of brains. Early stimulation is essential for babies and toddlers. Ear-ly interactions impact on the way the brain is ‘wired’ as well as creating the context for development and learning. The setting plans a variety of experiences for this age range, including lots of sensory experiences, such as treasure baskets, different material to feel and messy play but they also prioritise the adult spending time interacting with the baby.

Theoretical perspectives in relation to cognitive development.

The Behaviourist approach is basically that we learn as a result of what happens after an event. Behaviourists believe that people’s behaviour is a result of their interaction with the environment and primarily used to motivate based on responses like feedback, praise and rewards. Skinner (1904-1990) applied behaviourism to language, an exam-ple of this is when babies babble, the parent or adult smiles at the baby giving them at-tention, this encourages the baby to make more noises.

If children enjoy experiences in the setting as stated in the EYFS “ that adults need to make enjoyable experiences “ ( 2017) then children are more likely to learn. Practitioners reward children through giving them attention, listening to them, letting them have a voice, laughing and smiling with them and give encouragement.

The constructivist approach is based on the child being an active learner and learning from their experiences. Jean Piaget (1896-1980) suggested that children ‘constructed’ or ‘built’ their thoughts according to their experiences of the world around them, which is why his theory of learning is referred to as a “constructivist approach”. Piaget used the word ’schema’ to show the meaning of a child’s conclusions or thoughts and he felt that learning was an on-going process, where children need to adapt their original ideas if a new piece of information contradicted their conclusions. Schemas are adapted as chil-dren learn new experiences, the processes are called assimilation. When a child realises something is used in a similar way to something he/she has used before and accommo-dation : a child realises that their schemas does not always work then the child has to find another way for it to work based on their experience. Piaget believed children did not on-ly learn speech and language from developing their schemas he also said they had to pass through four stages of development His work has influenced a more “child-centred” approach to teaching, where teachers initially work out the child’s needs and plan their activities in accordance. Piaget’s work has also influenced approaches to the manage-ment of children’s behaviour, as he also looked at children’s moral development from a child’s perspective, rather than from an adult’s point of view.

  1. Sensorimotor stage:
    The first 2 years of a child’s life where babies learn through their senses; sight, taste, smell, sound, touch and physical action.
  2. Pre operational stage:
    From the age of 2 to around 6 or 7 children learn to manipulate the environment and represent objects by words.
  3. Concrete operational stage:
    From about 7 to 11 logical thought develops, children emphasis similarly and difference with logic normally only applied to things that can be seen.

Vygotsky (1962 ) a key theorist believed in a link between language and cognitive devel-opment. Thinking that children can use language to help control their behaviour and that their language is social. Children using language to talk to themselves and using lan-guage as a tool for regulating their actions. Vygotsky also believed in adult support. He followed on the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The ZPD is a level of development obtained when children engage in social interactions with others, suggesting that chil-dren have an unlock potential and it was for the adult to discover it. ZPD is usually de-scribed as the gap between what children already know and what they have the potential to do with the influence of an adult.

Bruner (1983) drew attention on the importance of play with adult interactions, suggest-ing the children can learn anything provided the information was simplified.

The Social Cognitive Theory is a theory as to how children learn by observing others. Al-bert Bandura (1925) whose theory is Social Development believed that children learn by observing how the main people in their life behave and then imitate them or model. The theory also highlights the importance of the learning area PSED (Personal, Social and Emotional Development), and provides evidence for why it’s good for practitioner’s to observe, assess and plan, to reflect and work in partnership, using ways that help and encourage adult actions that are good for children to see. A child will repeat the behav-iour they have seen if it is rewarded with attention or praise. It is important for children to have good role models. From the adults and older peers children can learn to turn take, remember manners and be helpful.

Look at the provision for supporting cognitive development in The nest day nursery.

Our setting has many good quality resources which provide opportunities for stimulation as well as well as sustained shared thinking. The majority of resources are natural and wood. There are some items that are plastic, for example Lego, magnets and technology toys. We also have extra resources for heuristic play and real items for use in home cor-ners for role play, such as cups and saucers, telephones, typewriter etc. Our setting is Reggio inspired so the environment is viewed a the third teacher. Most resources are ac-cessible to the children. The items that are not can be forgotten about especially if they are at the back of the cupboard or Shed. To help overcome this items have been set up in vintage suitcases, for example, wooden curtain rings and mug holders with wooden shape sorters, so these can be brought out and opened up. Sand and water is generally only used outside, sometimes they are brought in for the very young children in low con-tainers so they can be assessable through crawling to. Sensory/ messy play is encour-aged for practitioners to carry out weekly. The Owlets room which is ages 1 year- 2.5 have mark making facilities, these are at a new work centre which is at their height. The most popular choice for boys play in the setting is vehicles and dinosaurs in all ages. When they get them out practitioners may suggest other objects to go alongside them, for example, blocks and natural things such as tree trunks, stones and maybe messy play such as shaving foam or sand. After lunch is quiet/calm time so board games are en-couraged, the children have a love of puzzles and we often go to charity shops to get dif-ferent ones. We have an art room full of resources including a large basket of cardboard, bottles, egg boxes and tubes to encourage modelling, cutting, gluing and sticking, as well as a haberdashery trolley which provides them with a range of materials . The setting has plenty of wooden blocks all different sizes and shapes both inside and out, the children regularly make structures and we have recently introduced woodwork with the use of real tools. This year the children have not been able to go out very much due to Covid. There would normally trips to local shops, care centre and a small farm. Maths is in every area of the nursery, whether it be money, weighing scales, rulers, cooking activities, clocks, numbers in the environment, routines etc. We use In The Moment Planning.

Yates, A, 2020.
©The Nest Day Nursery Ltd.


Bruer,J.T ,1999, the Myth of the first three years:A new understanding of early brain development and lifelong learning. New York: Free Press.

Tassoni, P, 2014, Cache level 3 Early Years Educator. Hodder Education, London.

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Pound, L. 2008, How Children Learn. Book 2, Practical school books. London.